Now that Yankee Thanksgiving has more or less given the rest of the free world permission to fully embrace holiday mode we should tell all of our Canadian readers of a documentary that is coming out just in time for the holidays, Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas, a film by Larry Weinstein.
Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas will have a one time screening on Sunday December 3 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, for the cast/crew and public, hosted by Toronto Jewish Film Foundation. That same night it will premiere on documentary Channel at 8pm EST then air once more on CBC on December 7th at 9:00 p.m.
For your viewing pleasure we have your first look at the trailer for Larry Weinstein's documentary below.
Where would our modern Christmas season be without songs like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Have A Holly Jolly Christmas, Do You Hear What I Hear?, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) and, of course, White Christmas?
They are essentially secular commercials for the idea of Christmas - jingles if you will, that elevated what had been a distinctively religious holiday into a pop culture phenomenon whose lengthy “season” now begins before the leaves turn colour.
And they were all written by Jewish songwriters.
The cheeky musical special Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas posits an essential irony, that the most impactful Christian holiday in the world was, in many ways, a creation of non-Christians, with names like Irving Berlin, Mel Tormé, Ray Evans, Gloria Shayne Baker and Johnny Marks.
Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is directed by Larry Weinstein (Oscar nominated Making Overtures: The Story of a Community, and Leslie Caron: The Reluctant Star), and is partly set in a Chinese restaurant, the archetypal dinner destination for Jews on Christmas Day. There, even the waiters (professional singer Roger Feng and actor Gaston Poon) break out into renditions of holiday ditties, sometimes accompanied by gongs and dragon dances.
A panoply of Canadian performers, including Tom Wilson (Blackie & The Rodeo Kings), Steven Page (Barenaked Ladies), klezmer artists Lemon Bucket Orkestra and David Wall (The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir), Dione Taylor, Kevin Breit and Aviva Chernick, give signature performances of the best-loved tunes of the season.
All of this is a prelude to the academic and cultural insights of Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas. Comics like Jackie Mason, Yuk Yuk’s Mark Breslin, Lisa Geduldig and Ophira Eisenberg add their input to that of the likes of Grammy-Award-winning musicologist Rob Bowman, digital publisher Jennifer 8 Lee, famed attorney Alan Dershowitz, music journalist Robert Harris, Steve Marche-Tormé (son of the “Velvet Fog” Mel Tormé), Father Thomas Rosica and Rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut.
What emerges is a playful picture of Jewish immigrants to American society, seeking to both maintain their identity and assimilate into a culture that offered dreams. Songwriters, filmmakers, singers and actors found they could embrace the spirit of a holiday that wasn’t theirs, and amplify its message to include more than just churchgoers.
“Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is a new kind of concoction – a hybrid within a hybrid,” director Weinstein says. “It’s a drama, a performance film, a documentary; it consists of archives, faux archives, animation and it’s always musical.
“This is a program with thematic and visual power. The true story on which it is based is fraught with tales of pogroms and poverty and a desperate desire for assimilation and acceptance. It’s occurred to me that Christ as a Jew, was a shunned outsider in his own time, as historically were so many Jews in Christian society (like red-nosed reindeers). Perhaps this is a theme of this film.”
“But at its heart Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is anything but tragic – it is all about pure joy and the celebration of the human spirit. It is infused with Jewish humour and light. It’s a celebration. A Mitzvah. It’s Christmas – the most wonderful time of the year!”
Described as, "A musical special that cheekily examines how Jewish tunesmiths shaped the yuletide" it will repeat on documentary Channel on the following dates.
December 4, 3:00 am ET; December 4, 5:00 am ET; December 24, 8:00 pm ET; December 25, 3:00 am ET